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A rose by any other name is the Stick of Blood
Stick of Blood
Wild plants in the rose family
When we think of roses most people think of beautiful flowers that grow on bushes and have a sweet perfume, but the rose family actually has many species in it that do not fit this model at all. There are some shrubs that are in the Rosaceae that grow in Tenerife that have inconspicuous blooms, no real scent and only experienced botanists would be aware that these plants were classified in this group.
Stick of Blood or Palo de Sangre
The Stick of Blood (Marcetella moquiniana), or Palo de Sangre to give it its Spanish name, is a very beautiful endemic shrub that can reach 4 metres in height, though is often seen a lot shorter than this. It has reddish hairs that coat the upper parts of its stems and branches and make it very distinctive.
The Stick of Blood has attractive blue-green foliage but its flowers are very small and inconspicuous. After flowering it produces clusters of dry brownish seeds that are winged so they can blow away to another location. Where it is found growing there are usually plenty of specimens of this shrub so it is a bit of a mystery as to why it is not far more widely distributed. In Tenerife it is found in ravines and on cliffs and slopes around Los Silos, Cuevas Negras and Los Realejos, as well as in the Barranco del Infierno and in Masca. There are plenty of examples of the Stick of Blood growing in borders at the top of the road leading down to Playa del Socorro on the northwest coast of the island, and in fact it is doing so well there that I have seen it actually growing in cracks in the asphalt and concrete at the side of the road. It is often grown in parks and gardens of the Canary Islands too and can be seen in the Parque del Drago in Icod de los Vinos, but it also grows wild in La Gomera and Gran Canaria.
Bencomia shrubs named after the Guanche leader Bencomo
.There are four species of Bencomia (named after Bencomo the Guanche king) found in the Canary Islands. All of these shrubs are members of the rose family and are very rare. Two of them are found in Tenerife. Bencomia caudata is found on forest cliffs and in ravines in the north of the island. It has evergreen leaflets and its tiny flowers are carried in drooping inflorescences that become covered in greenish semi-globular fruits.
Botanist David Bramwell, in his book Wild Flowers of the Canary Islands, says that this Bencomia species only reaches 2 metres in height and he describes it as a “small shrub”. However, whilst walking in Cuevas Negras, I found a number of specimens of this rarity in the garden of a derelict house. Several plants had developed into small trees and were 5 metres or more in height. Bramwell was contacted about my discovery and after seeing some photos he agreed they were B. caudata. He thinks that they have grown to such an exceptional size because of the fertile soil of the garden they are in.
B. exstipulata is the other Bencomia species that is native to Tenerife. It is only found on cliffs high up on Mt Teide where it grows in crevices in shaded rocks.
Very tall Bencomia caudata specimen
A wild plum or laurel
Also in the rose family is the Portugal Laurel (Prunus lusitanica). It is an evergreen tree and a type of wild plum, and its tiny white flowers produce purplish-black fruit. It can be found growing in laurel forests of the north of Tenerife and can reach 10 metres in height.
You probably didn’t know that the Blackberry or Bramble is in the rose family but it just so happens that it is, and in Tenerife we have our very own Canarian Blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius). I don’t know about you but I love gathering wild blackberries to make delicious jam, pies and wine.
Of course, the roses we know so well can be grown in parks and gardens in Tenerife as well and I have seen some wonderful specimens here. There were red and yellow rose bushes in the part of Costa del Silencio I used to live in.
As long as they had enough water they did well enough there but one of the finest displays I have seen is in the northern town of La Guancha where roses are in the shrub borders all along the main street.
Roses have many uses as well as being very beautiful flowers. The petals are edible and can be eaten in salad or made into jelly or jam, The dried flowers are a traditional ingredient in pot-pourri.
Many of you will remember the old advertising slogan for a brand of chocolate that told us that “Roses grow on you”. I am definitely glad that roses and their fascinating plant relations grow on Tenerife!
First published in the Tenerife Weekly, April 2013
Rose Petal Tea
3 cups of white sugar
3⁄4 cup of water
3-4 cups of rose petals
1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Place all the ingredients in an earthenware or enamel pan and bring to the boil. Stir constantly until petals break down and dissolve into the liquid. Cool the tea and put into glasses or jars and refrigerate.
3 cups dried rose petals
2 cups mixed dried flowers
1 tablespoon dried lavender
1 cup mixed dried herbs: mint, marjoram, thyme and angelica (if available)
1 teaspoon cloves, 1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice, 2 teaspoons ground orris root
5-10 drops rose essential oil
Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Leave for 2-3weeks but shake occasionally.
© 2014 Steve Andrews